Monday, 13 February 2012

Class Action: Concordia's personal injury claims alone may exceed $500 million

“These people have no idea what their agonising experience is worth yet".

The Costa Concordia sinking is on track to likely end up as the biggest ever shipping loss for insurers; along with the costs of salvage or wreck removal comes more bad news for Carnival: A class action suit- one of several expected to follow- has been filed in the US by a Chicago law firm on behalf of passengers and crew.  Another suit- seeking at least $500 million- is in the pipeline. (A class action suit involves a group of people getting together and collectively suing a class of defendants.)  In addition, many survivors of the incident from UK, Italy and the US have already filed personal lawsuits in Miami where Carnival is headquartered.  Meanwhile, some of the Concordia crew that have returned to the Philippines are being solicited by lawyers to go to court to demand proper compensation instead of what they say is a pittance.

Chicago’s Ribbeck Law firm- that filed a lawsuit in a US District Court- is gunning for Carnival Corp and its subsidiary Costa Crociere. Asking for class-action status on behalf of all passengers and crew, it summarises its case: “(Captain) Schettino attributed his action to the cruise company encouraging the practice of sailing close to the island because it was good publicity and went down well with the passengers in the increasingly competitive cruise business.” Ribbeck says that Schettino's action was cowardly and reckless and that, in addition, “Defendants failed to properly and timely notify all plaintiffs onboard of the deadly and dangerous condition of the ship”.

Another class action will be probably filed soon by personal injury specialist law firm Proner & Proner in Florida, who say they will demand at least $160,000 for each passenger aboard, besides "hundreds of thousands more for those seriously injured and for families of deceased passengers ", which will make the claim total to more than $500M.

Passenger and crew claims may be strengthened by the fact that comments made by Schettino to a friend over the phone after he was arrested were recorded and have been now made public. The Captain of the Concordia reportedly said, “Management was always saying ‘pass by there, pass by there’. Someone else in my position might not have been so amenable to pass so close, but they busted my b---s and now I’m paying for it.”

Costa Cruises had desperately tried to pre-empt large claims by offering, well before the class action filing, a relatively paltry $14,500 to each of the passengers aboard Costa Concordia for lost items and 'psychological damages' on the condition that they agree to drop all future legal action; injured passengers would be dealt with individually, Costa said. Unconfirmed reports say that this deal would cover the crew as well, but reports from the Philippines suggest otherwise.

Almost every lawyer has advised passengers to reject the Costa deal. One umbrella Italian group instead advised survivors to join a US class-action lawsuit that is asking for $165,000 for each passenger. “All those who were on board the ship are entitled to be compensated not only for material damage  but also for fear and terror suffered, and the risks related to physical integrity," it said.

“Throwing money at survivors to effectively get them out of sight is not what we have in mind,” says Giulia Bongiorno, a lawyer who has about fifty passenger survivors signed up with him. “These people have no idea what their agonising experience is worth yet". 

Meanwhile, many of the Filipino crew of the Concordia are back in Manila, pressing for compensation of their own. Lawyers say that they are being offered a pittance. The mother of one of the seafarers told a local newspaper, "While they were still in Italy, the Italian office of Costa promised to pay the Filipino crew at least 3,500 Euros each. Upon arrival in Manila, however, their local agent downsized the compensation to 3,500 US dollars.” The amount is to cover lost personal effects and separation pay equivalent to one-month salary. 

There was no word on compensation for the injured crew, the report says, pointing out that- according to its website- Costa Crociere claims to have made 2.9 billion Euros in 2010.

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